On the Road

The LaCrosse moves out when pushed, but its capabilities stop short of an all-out sport sedan's — fine by me, seeing as no one ever wanted Buick to build the next BMW. The LaCrosse CXS, which packs the 3.6-liter V-6 from GM's three-row crossover SUVs, moves about as swiftly from stoplights as Lexus' ES 350, which is to say its power is strong but not quite effortless.

The CXS' six-speed automatic transmission handles upshifts smoothly; it kicks down with a slight delay but picks a gear and stays there, allowing uninterrupted passing power when you need it. In comparison, the ES 350's automatic seems to hunt for the right gear.

The LaCrosse CX and CXL get a smaller 3.0-liter V-6, also with a six-speed auto. Highway passing power is similar to what the CXS can muster, but getting up there takes a bit more time, as there's less immediate power available when the light turns green.

The more noticeable difference comes with all-wheel drive. It's available only on the CXL, and it adds just 180 pounds — fairly light, as all-wheel-drive systems go — but that's enough to reduce passing power noticeably. Buick says the CXL received all-wheel drive at the car's introduction because it's the LaCrosse's top-selling trim level. I'd like to see the CXS and its larger V-6 offer it soon; all-wheel-drive buyers could certainly use the extra oomph.

A four-cylinder engine will be available late this year in the LaCrosse CX. At GM's media preview, there were no four-cylinders available to test, but once we get one I'll add my impressions. Buick says EPA gas mileage should work out to about 20/30 mpg city/highway — better than any immediate competitor, though none of them offer four-cylinder engines.

With front-wheel drive, the 3.0-liter V-6 gets an EPA-estimated 17/26 mpg. That's comparable to the mileage in an Acura TL or Lincoln MKZ, if a bit short of the ES. On the upside, Buick says its drivetrains run fine on regular fuel. The ES recommends premium, and the TL requires it. This will save drivers money at the pump.

The EPA hasn't listed official figures for other trims, but Buick's estimates have the all-wheel-drive LaCrosse's mileage dropping to 16/26 mpg (comparable to the all-wheel-drive TL and MKZ) and the 3.6-liter V-6 coming in at 17/27 mpg. Buick also estimated the 3.0-liter at 17/27, though, so don't be surprised if it comes down to 17/26 when the EPA chimes in with its rating.

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